Operation Dead Meat.

Boris Johnson’s game plan is quite clear. Brass it out. Throw as many underlings under the bus as possible. Try to appease his Party’s right wing – who are the force behind trying to defenestrate him now with a series of increasingly wild policy pronouncements.

The Morning after the night before.
  • Go to war with Radio 4. As if the BBC weren’t right wing enough, with their long succession of lead political commentators who either were or might as well have been Conservative activists (Nick Robinson was in FCS in the 80s at the time they demonstrated in support of Nicaraguan terrorists and sported Hang Nelson Mandela T shirts; Laura Kuenssberg has often seemed to act as a straight conduit for the latest line from Tory central office). Perhaps the success of GB News is what they have in mind. A channel with very little appeal outside the Alt Right bubble.
  • Deploy the Royal Navy in the Channel against refugees seeking safety. This is either bluff – sounds decisive, means nothing – or murderous. What are they going to do? Heroically open fire on dinghies full of desperate people? Or ram them? Leave people to drown or save their lives?
  • Lift Covid safety measures early. Having learned nothing from every other time they’ve done this in the pandemic. Latest government measures have all had this finely tuned “not quite just in time” quality. Cutting the isolation period down to five days from seven means that a third of the people concerned could still be infectious. But, what the hell, it gets more people back to work. Being “past the peak” is not the same thing as being in a sufficiently safe space to open up. Just as “endemic” does not mean that an epidemic is any less lethal – its just means you’ve given up on trying to control it. Current safety measures – however half baked – have case numbers and hospitalisations going down. Deaths are a lagging indicator and still going up (38% up from the previous week on Sunday). Letting them go early means that they will have less effect, which means that the rate of decline will slow and more people will die. A small price to pay for the PM’s political career.
  • Push a Red Scare. The bizarre allegation’s from MI5 that Christine Lee has been conducting “illegal” attempts to “influence” legislators in the interests of the Chinese Communist Party – coming from the team that brought us the Zinoviev Letter, Spycatcher and Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq – without specifying what she did that was “illegal” nor charging her with anything. In fact, Priti Patel has admitted that Lee’s behaviour is currently below the criminal threshold to be prosecuted. In other words, what she is supposed to have done was not, in fact, illegal, as claimed by MI5. How it differs from lobbying by other countries, some of them supposed to be allies, has not been defined. Nor why this sort of thing is illegitimate in this case, but not in theirs. All part of developing a Cold War politics of paranoia. Yvette Cooper has, of course, gone along with the government’s approach. Priti Patel has warned that we can expect more of these announcements and floated a change in the law. I doubt any of this will target attempts to “advance the interests” of the United States which are part of the warp and weft of the UK establishment – from the Trilateral Commission to the 5 Eyes Intelligence alliance – which makes the UK security services a local auxiliary of those of the USA – to the Henry Jackson Society and Uncle Sam Cobbly and all. This appears to be an attempt to make it impossible for anyone in politics, academia or the media to suggest that maybe China gets some things right, without being accused of being an agent or a spy; thereby closing down the range of debate and setting up anyone raising awkward facts to be howled down by enraged mobs rather than acknowledge them. The decline of once unchallengeable US dominance really sets us up for a delirious period of irrational politics.

It also beggars belief that, at precisely this point, Keir Starmer and Wes Streeting think that the thing to do is to ride to Johnson’s rescue on Covid.

Streeting – in an article on Labour List – put forward “Labour’s Plan to live well with Covid”. Yes. he really did write that. A real contender for the backdrop for Party Conference, or billboards at the next election. Possibly more memorable than Starmer’s latest “This, That and The other”. The irony of this is that Streeting is putting this forward as part of a plan to show that Labour aims to win the next election on its own merits, not simply be the lucky beneficiary of the Tories falling apart. Clearly, the statesmanlike thing is to show how fit we are for government by being as much like them as possible.

At the same time Starmer’s speech to the Fabian Society echoed the government line. “We need to learn to live with Covid. He went on “I don’t want a government ever again to have to place tough restrictions on our lives, our livelihoods and our liberties.” Ever again. From here. Regardless of what happens? Close your eyes and it could be the Covid Recovery Group speaking. Restrictions (which might also be called safeguards) only have to be put in place when the virus is left to run riot). An active Covid suppression policy saves lives and allows economic recovery. Let the virus evolve into a new variant – as it will – and we’ll once again have picked up the card marked “Return to Hospital. Do not pass Go. Do not collect an economic recovery”.

To be fair to Streeting, his proposals actually spell out that constant safeguards (restrictions) are the price of accepting that “the virus is here to stay”. Some of this proposes a sensible wholesale roll out of a serious testing and tracing system, ventilation systems in schools, support for worldwide vaccination, proper sick pay for those having to isolate – which concedes that people will have to – and but also requires a permanent volunteer “jabs army” to relieve pressure on Health Service workers – instead of recruiting workers that will have to be paid (?!). All of this concedes that pressure will be constant from here, as will waves of jabs.

By contrast, a serious position that rejects complicity with the government and sets a course towards active Covid suppression has now been adopted by the Socialist Health Association, and this should be discussed up and down the Party and through the unions too to push a change of course and defy this fatal fatalism.

Coronavirus Pandemic

We note that:

1. The Tory Government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic has led to one of the highest per capita death tolls in the world, as well as causing thousands to suffer with long term health problems.

2. Its incompetence, corruption, repeated failure to take timely decisions, reliance on just vaccines and herd immunity, on top of its ideological neo-liberalism mean that it has utterly failed to protect the health and well-being of the people of the UK.

3. In October 2021, Parliament’s Health & Social Care and Science & Technology Committees’ joint report on the lessons learnt from the UK’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic described it as one of “the most important public health failures the United Kingdom has ever experienced”; and the Public Accounts Committee report on the government’s flagship test-and-trace system said that it had failed to achieve “its main objective” to cut infection levels and help Britain return to normal despite beinghanded an “eye-watering” £37bn in taxpayers’ cash.

4. The Government continues to delay its promised independent public enquiry.

We recognise that:

1. Vaccination, while essential, can be only one tool in the struggle to control Covid-19.

2. Those countries which have aimed at maximum suppression of the virus have the lowest death tolls and are suffering the least negative economic consequences.

3. There is no reliable evidence that it is possible to live safely with this virus as it mutates, and more dangerous variants emerge.

We call on the SHA and Labour Party at all levels to:

1. Reject the Tories’ ‘living with the virus’ approach, and instead support a comprehensive strategy to keep community transmission of the virus as close to zero as possible and ultimately to eliminate it entirely from particular geographic areas, based on tried and tested public health principles, including: An effective public sector local and fully-funded Find, Test, Trace, Isolate and Support (FFTIS) operation run by the NHS and local authorities, providing comprehensive financial, psychological, social and health care support and practical assistance to all required to self-isolate or shield. Continuing personal protection and mitigation measures including social distancing, handwashing, mask-wearing and good ventilation. An obligation for workplaces, educational places, hospitality, venues and other indoor public spaces to adhere to and publicly display Covid protection standards (especially for ventilation).Vaccine passes where appropriate. The right to work and study from home where possible and no requirement to attend the workplace unless strictly necessary.

2. Actively support campaigns and international efforts to tackle the pandemic on a global level through facilitating speedy vaccine deployment and production in all parts of the world In order to effectively campaign for this essential life-saving elimination strategy, we resolve to support Independent SAGE, to affiliate to the Zero Covid UK campaign, and to work with those campaigns.

Stephen Kinnock goes full Royston Vasey.

Change the word “British” to “American” in this quote from Stephen Kinnock’s pean to Keir Starmer’s Labour conference speech, and you get a sentiment that could easily have been expressed by Donald Trump or Steve Bannon.

“Turning to our sense of national security, there is an equally compelling story to tell. For decades, unfettered globalisation has been allowed to rip through our communities, off-shoring jobs, tearing at the social fabric of our towns, and complacently inviting Chinese state-owned enterprises to dominate our supply chains and insert themselves into our critical national infrastructure. The British people are crying out for a government that will stand up for their interests on the global stage.”

Lets look at this in detail.

It follows a paragraph in which he rightly notes “there can be no doubt that for decades people’s sense of local and national security has been eroding, to the point where we now live in what the economist and author Paul Collier calls the ‘Age of Anxiety’. But he does not examine what it is that is causing that anxiety – and indeed, growing mental health crisis – particularly amongst those being impoverished and disempowered.

That is probably deliberate, because spelling them out would lead to very different conclusions from the ones he wants to draw.

People in the developed world are now on the receiving end of tactics long employed by business in the Global South. In the same way that soldiers in Europe in the First World War found themselves on the receiving end of military technology previously deployed exclusively by them against “lesser breeds without the law” in the colonies. In the end, it all comes home to roost. So, insecure employment, zero hours contracts, hire and fire, weakened unions and bullying managements, stagnating wages, “in work benefits” as a subsidy to employers, food banks, a social security system worn so thin that the fabric is long torn, are all a feature of workers experience across the entire system; regardless of locality or nation. Its not China that is “tearing at the fabric” of our high streets, its Amazon. Its not China that is “offshoring Jobs” its businesses like Dyson. People are anxious about whether they will keep their jobs, whether their children will find decent work or housing, how they will be cared for in old age. All this is global. Not local. Not national.

People are also anxious that the future feels more like a trap than a promise. Since 2008, neo liberalism has been incapable of inclusive growth. Climate breakdown is increasingly apparent. 75% of young people globally say they are frightened by the future. 39% say they are planning not to have children. This is global. Not local. Not national.

For Kinnock, this is not about capitalism, its about “unfettered globalisation”; an enemy of the local and national. That would be the “unfettered globalisation” that Tony Blair argued for in his 2005 Labour Party conference speech. “I hear people say we have to stop and debate globalisation. You might as well debate whether autumn should follow summer.” This was before the 2008 crash. When Blair and those like him believed that it was possible to eliminate “boom and bust” and sail ever onwards and upwards, and the accession of China to the World Trade Organisation would slowly but surely turn the entire world into one gigantic American suburb. It didn’t turn out like that.

so, now, we find economic nationalism back in a big way. A dog whistle in Starmer’s speech about how awful it is that wind farm components are “towed in from places such as Indonesia”. So, workers in the developing world, getting a toe hold on industrialisation, are the threat to workers here; setting them head to head in a zero sum competition rather than complimentary parts of a global division of labour that could be win win for all of us. And what a wonderful phrase that is; “places such as”. Places that were once colonies, places that “we” could once happily disregard as far away countries of which we knew nothing and cared less, but now that they are getting uppity and wanting work, should be put firmly back in their place.

Starmer seems more concerned with jackets and towers for wind farms being made in Indonesia and Vietnam, than he does about the more lucrative and skilled jobs making the motors being done in Europe. This is a dangerously misleading trope with a racist whiff. A study on the reality of offshoring by multinationals carried out by the University of Nottingham in 2005 found that of 925 UK Multinational firms in manufacturing and 1,928 in services

  • 96 per cent of UK multinationals in the manufacturing sector had at least one subsidiary within OECD member nations, while just 20 per cent had subsidiaries within non-OECD countries; only eight per cent had subsidiaries in either China or India.
  • In the services sector, 95 per cent of UK multinationals had at least one subsidiary in OECD member countries; only 18 per cent in non-OECD countries; and just 4.5 per cent in India and China.
  • They concluded that “these findings refute the common misrepresentation that the UK is offshoring jobs largely to ‘cheap labour’ markets” and that “the truth is that the most frequent locations for foreign affiliates are other developed countries, mainly other European nations and the US.”

And Kinnock does not notice the irony in his speech. “Chinese state owned enterprises” have done rather well since the crash, primarily because they are state owned. Time was, Labour was in favour of that. Kinnock is painting a paranoid picture – two parts “Yellow Peril” to three parts “Red Menace” -akin to that of the Base Commander in Dr Strangelove. It was, of course, a dreadful thing that Chinese steel maker Jingye invested £1.2 in saving British Steel in Scunthorpe, and the 3,000 jobs that went with it. And China’s offer to build HS2 in 5 years at a fraction of the cost currently projected is obviously an evil plan to infiltrate our precious bodily fluids.

On the basis of seeking truth through facts:

  • In 2020, China accounted for 12% of the UK supply chain (imports) – the same level as Germany. The problem for Kinnock is that this proportion is growing on the basis of normal trading relations. If he wants to launch a trade war on Trumpish lines, the net effect would be the same as in the US, increased costs for consumers and an increase in economic insecurity.
  • This graph shows the sources of FDI into the UK in 2019. China’s contribution is somewhere in “other” and below that of France. So, less than 4.6% and and not exactly “commanding heights”. Kinnock seems unconcerned that US capital is inserting itself “into our critical national infrastructure” on a very large scale indeed.

It is his final sentence that is most concerning. “The British people are crying out for a government that will stand up for their interests on the global stage.” It reads like a Daily Mail or Express headline. Its as if he watches Henry V every morning before breakfast. “The British people”. As though it were a single entity with a single voice, with no contradictions and no arguments on the way forward. This is unreconstructed nationalist populism; a leading Labour politician allowing himself to be used as a ventriloquist dummy for the posturing imperial nostalgia of Boris Johnson; a kind of viagra for a sense of resentful national decline. The belief that we still live in a time in which sending a big gunboat to the South China Sea and being a mini-me for the New American Century is a route to “security” is deluded. There is nothing quite so dangerous as a faded imperial power trying to strut its stuff and strike postures “on the world stage”.

This isn’t a performance. If we want security, we have real problems to deal with – climate breakdown, Covid, poverty, racism, stopping a new Cold War. At the UN last month, Xi Jinping called for global co-operation to deal with all of them. That is the path to security for all of us.